EU Observer (Link) - Andrew Rettman (June 7, 2011)
Russia and the EU are framing a joint position on relations with the Palestinian unity government, as divisions on the subject with the US and Israel deepen, a senior Russian diplomat has said.
Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told press in Brussels on Tuesday (7 June) that EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are aiming to put out a joint communique on the subject at the EU-Russia summit on Thursday and Friday.
The details of the text are being kept under wraps. But Chizhov said: “The Russian position is closer to the EU position than the US position ... We’ve expressed the need to foster Palestinian unity, because without that no progress whatsoever is possible.”
He indicated that the EU’s position is unpopular in Washington: “I don’t think there is an immediate danger of the collapse of the Quartet. There is a divergence of views.”
Hamas in May agreed to accept an Israeli state based on 1967 borders, to call a truce with Israel and to abide by former international pacts as part of a new government with rival Palestinian faction Fatah.
Ashton, speaking for the EU, has signalled she is willing to work with Hamas if it abides by the new terms. But Israel and the US have urged Fatah to walk away from the deal, with Israeli diplomats in Brussels pointing out that Hamas’ 1988 charter still calls for the “obliteration” of Israel.
Russia’s Chizhov noted that Quartet members - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - have reacted differently to the Arab Spring.
He said Brussels and Moscow wanted the Quartet to play a bigger role and to put the Arab-Israeli conflict center stage in terms of international diplomacy in the region. But the US disagreed.
“We feel the developments in the wider north Africa and Middle East region have actually increased the need for the involvement of the Quartet. Some say the opposite: ‘Now it’s all about Libya, Egypt, Tunisia. It’s not the moment for settling old scores between Israel and Palestine’,” he explained.
Pointing to the recent protests by Palestinian refugees on the Israel-Lebanon and the Israel-Syria borders, he said events in the region are “all interconnected.”
Chizhov noted that Russia does not agree with EU countries’ military action in Libya and EU sanctions on Syria. But he said French President Nicolas Sarkozy has invited Russian diplomats to talk to Gaddafi, with Russia’s envoy to Africa, Mikhail Margelo, currently in Tripoli.
On Syria, he added: “The prospect of a UN Security Council resolution along the same lines as 1973 on Libya [authorising military action] will not be supported by my country. We are in direct contact with Syrian authorities providing advice on how best to handle the situation.”
The EU-Russia summit is designed to create a feel-good factor despite serious differences on human rights and trade, with a boat trip planned for top EU and Russian officials along the Volga river on Thursday evening.
The meeting will see the signature of two low-key agreements - on migration and on plans to modernise Russian businesses. But coverage of the summit in Russian media has been hijacked by Russia’s decision to ban imports of all EU vegetables due to the deadly E. coli outbreak.
Chizhov indicated there is little prospect of Russia lifting the ban before Thursday.
But he said it might in future move to bans of vegetables from selected EU regions only on condition the Union provides “guarantees” the given produce is safe. The ambassador risked a joke at the EU’s expense, adding: “The problem is not with the Russian ban, it’s with, well I wouldn’t say ‘EU Coli,’ but ...”
He rejected an earlier report by this website saying the EU and Russia would like to clip one of their twice-yearly summits due to lack of content.
Chizhov said the move is legally impossible until the two replace a 1994 bilateral treaty which created the set-up. “I have never heard from any of the participants at the summit that they didn’t feel the need to come,” he added. †